Hypothesis: When a pop artist goes country, it’s usually with an eye at least partly turned toward radio — after all, country radio is bigger than Top 40 in many markets, and quite amenable to pop visitors. You could do an entire taxonomy of this — The Ringer did, in a Tom Ewing way — but what I’m interested in here is the career side:
1. Hail Mary Moves (Pink, Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake): artists either on a career decline or coming off a disappointing album, attempting to change course, perhaps pick up fans and airplay elsewhere. Southernness and/or folksiness helps but is not required.
2. Idol Moves (Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato): artists with connections to shows like American Idol or The Voice, which have symbiotic relationships with country music and its talent circuits. Idol-likes provide built-in country legitimacy — repetoire, judges, themes — while the heartland provides a steady flow of pageant queens and Nashville aspirants, and millions of watchers.
3. Boomerang Moves: artists from the aforementioned circuits returning to their roots. A surprising amount of people might have something like this in them. (I’m surprised Britney Spears hasn’t tried it yet, but then, it probably isn’t Britney Spears making that call.) A surprising amount of people will say the artists have no right to do this, even if they did pay their dues.
4. Power Moves (so far, only Beyonce; “FourFiveSeconds” came close): Claiming a genre as one’s own, as a statement. Beyonce’s statement is that she belongs in country as much as anyone else and possibly more — she’s from Texas, why wouldn’t she? The power of this move is in the legions of people it’s thoroughly, irrationally pissed off.
5. Authenticity Moves (all of the above): Because country has instruments, man.